$1B donation makes New York medical school tuition free and transforms students’ lives

First-year student Samuel Woo had been considering a career in cardiology so he could pay off his medical school debt until the announcement this week of a generous donation that will eliminate tuition at his New York City school.

Now, without the fear of crippling student debt, the 23-year-old whose parents emigrated from South Korea said Tuesday he can afford to pursue his dream of providing medical services to people living on the streets.

“I was definitely very emotional and it changes a lot,” said Woo, who had been working as a teacher and at a cafe to cover his costs.

Ruth Gottesman, a former professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and widow of a Wall Street investor, announced Monday that she is donating $1 billion to the Bronx school. The gift means that four-year students will immediately become tuition-free, while everyone else will benefit from it in the fall.

Another freshman year, Jade Andrade, whose parents immigrated from the Philippines to rural Virginia, had a similar reaction.

“A great wave of relief just came over me and everyone around me in the room,” Andrade said.

Both students expressed hope that Gottesman’s generous gift would open doors for more low-income students from immigrant families who otherwise could not have afforded to pursue a career in medicine.

The donation is notable not only for its size—possibly the largest of any U.S. medical school, according to Montefiore Einstein, the umbrella organization of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Montefiore Health System—but also because the school is located in one of the most impoverished parts of New York City and State.

“There are first-generation people here in the Bronx, low-income students, who really want to be doctors, want to study medicine and practice here, but just aren’t able to get the opportunity, whether that’s financial reasons or lack of resources,” Woo said. “I hope that the free education will take some of the pressure off those students and encourage them to look at medicine as, you know, a potentially acceptable field.”

Andrade, 30, called the announcement liberating.

“Growing up in an immigrant household, there are very few life decisions that you make without thinking about the financial aspects of it in terms of, you know, ‘Is this a worthy investment of my time? This is something I want to do, but can I afford it? ” she said.

But once you remove the financial burden, “Everyone can dream bigger.”

Astonished students and faculty stood up, clapping, cheering, some crying, after Gottesman, 93, announced her donation. She has been associated with the college for 55 years and is chairman of the supervisory board.

School officials said they hoped free tuition would attract a diverse group of applicants, although the school has no plans to change its admissions policy. They said the donation should be perpetual because the interest earned means the lump sum will continue to grow. All students are eligible for the free tuition fee.

Tuition at the school currently stands at $63,000 per year, leaving graduating students with mountains of debt that could take decades to repay. The Education Data Initiative says that on average, medical graduates leave school with $202,453 in debt.

Other schools in decidedly wealthier areas have also benefited from generous donations.

In 2018, Kenneth and Elaine Langone donated $100 million to the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, which went into an endowment fund to make tuition free for all current and future medical students. And in 2023, the Langones donated $200 million to the NYU Grossman Long Island School of Medicine to fund a full-tuition scholarship program and guarantee free tuition for all medical students. Kenneth Langone is co-founder of Home Depot.

UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine is offering merit-based scholarships thanks to some $146 million in donations from the recording industry mogul.

Gottesman credited her late husband, David “Sandy” Gottesman, with leaving her the financial resources to make the donation. David Gottesman built the Wall Street investment house First Manhattan and served on the board of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. He died in 2022 at the age of 96.

“I feel blessed to have been given the great privilege of making this gift to such a worthy cause,” said Gottesman, a pioneer in the field of learning disabilities.

Woo said he called his mother immediately after the announcement.

“I feel like she asked me a lot of questions because that’s what immigrant parents do,” he said. ‘But when I made it clear afterwards that I was no longer going to pay the school fees, she was very happy.’


Associated Press reporter Thalia Beaty in New York contributed to this report.